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17 October 2011

In lands I never saw—they say

In lands I never saw—they say
Immortal Alps look down—
Whose Bonnets touch the firmament—
Whose Sandals touch the town—

Meek at whose everlasting feet
A Myriad Daisy play—
Which, Sir, are you and which am I
Samuel Bowles
Upon an August day?
                                     - F 108 (1859)  124

The “Sir” in this poem may be Samuel Bowles, a traveler and towering figure in Dickinson’s life. Some scholars and students of her poetry feel he was the true love of her life. She wrote more letters to him than to anyone else. The Emily Dickinson Museum website has this to say about Bowles:
Samuel Bowles was the owner and editor-in-chief of the Springfield Republican, New England’s most influential newspaper of the day. Under Bowles's direction, the paper became one of the country's "most progressive and influential" newspapers). Progressive in his own politics, he helped to establish the Republican party, supported the antislavery movement, and advocated for social reform on a number of fronts.
The fun part of this poem is not just the image of the mighty alps with “Bonnets” and “Sandals” – a distinctly feminine casting, but the question at the end. Is the poet the Daisy camped out at the feet of the mountain like an adoring disciple—or is it Sir who sits humbly at the feet of the poet? The poem suggests a bit of role reversal in the relationship. On any given August (or any) day either of the pair may play the daisy. That sounds like a dynamic relationship!
As an exception to the iambic meter the penultimate line begins with a spondee—two accented syllables: “Which, Sir,” that add a bit of fun pomp to the poem. One can imagine the poet playfully wagging her finger. The poem is written in simple ballad or hymn form: alternating lines of iambic tetrameter and trimeter with the second and fourth lines of each stanza rhyming. 


  1. I love this poem. It can be used in so many ways, and your linkage to Samuel Bowles adds even another dimension. I love "Which, Sir, are you and which am I - and ends with - Upon an August day?" [No less!]

    1. Thanks for the comment -- made me see "August" in a new way!

  2. Given the evidence of earlier poems, ED had no doubt about her inevitable immortality among poets, which makes her childlike speech and behavior around master-males like Bowles and Higginson seem strange. Was she a Jekyll and Hyde?

  3. Thinking more about the meaning of myriad it seems to me she is talking of both being daisies, unable to tell them apart from among the ten thousand. So I read it simply as both being simply pretty, yet insignificant, and still part of the beautiful landscape on a summer day. And the same goes for being poets or her individual poems adding to the realm of poetry.